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Column 63but the number of battered children would probably be reduced more by the reversal of some social security cuts than by the introduction of extreme punishments.
For every type of child abuse, the justifiable outrage of decent citizens tends to result in a clamour for tougher sentences. We are all worried by the fact that some judgments are only a slap on the wrist, rather than an expression of moral outrage. The judiciary cannot be seen to condone child abuse. Unfortunately, the vast majority of judges are white, male and middle-aged or elderly. Sometimes they seem to be more worried about the protection of property than about assaults on the person--even those committed against innocent children and, especially, babies.
The Social and Liberal Democrats believe that the extension of family courts would help in that direction. We support the section of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 that deals with evidence given by children. But we should not fall into the naive belief that legal arrangements will cure the cancer. Like sadistic murders, the abuse of children is sometimes committed by mentally sick people, and legal sanctions would not restrain them. Tougher punishments may be satisfying for some, but they delude us into thinking that the problem is being tackled when it is not.
Much of the terrifying amount of child abuse that now occurs, and perhaps has been occurring for many years, is committed by so-called ordinary people. The number of crimes may be reduced by more education of parents about child development. In some circumstances, children with disabilities are especially at risk. If their parents were taught to accept their difficulties, there might be less tension in some households. Moreover, the social services should pay greater attention when a stressful family is faced with a sudden crisis that could act as a trigger to child abuse. I have spoken to many directors of social services. The director in Southport, who also represents Sefton authority, has said many times that his budget is too restricted to allow him to deal with all the matters that he would wish.
I had the honour of meeting and talking to a constituent, Mr. Charles Oxley --the gentleman is now deceased--who was the main opponent of paedophile organisations. Although such organisations have been made illegal in Britain, diaries are still sold here which advertise international paedophile organisations. Some abusers in Britain use the fact that those diaries are on sale as an excuse for their activities, saying that it cannot be wrong as long as such material is available. I believe that it is wrong and that the diaries should be banned. I hope that the Minister will examine the matter. I should like to praise the Government for at last conducting a national survey into child abuse. At last, the scale of the problem should become clearer. However, I am disappointed that that research appears only to cover England. Is there no child abuse in Scotland, Wales, or Northern Ireland?
I also welcome the publication of guidelines for social workers which might help them in what can undoubtedly be very difficult situations. However, unfortunately, human judgment is still crucial and mistakes are therefore possible. The risk could be reduced if the social services were not so badly funded and understaffed.
Column 64Clearly, the Government must act to protect children. I believe that they will do so through the Children Bill, which will certainly have my support and that of my party.
Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne) : I wish to speak in this debate for two simple reasons, first, to stress how little we know about child abuse and, secondly, to plead with the House to take one specific aspect of child abuse a great deal more seriously that it has been taken in the past.
Abusing children is so self-evidently abhorrent and wishing to protect children is so self-evidently good that there is a real danger of jumping to conclusions without too much thought. However, if we are to make any real progress in this matter, we must first take one step back from those instinctive and emotional reactions and take a long, hard look at the facts.
However, if we set out to look at the facts, we quickly make a rather nasty discovery--that very few facts are available. Many of the key issues have yet to be researched. One of the infrequently quoted parts of the Cleveland inquiry report states on page 245 : "There are some issues of importance upon which we did not receive evidence and which we have not addressed. These include specifically the nature of abusers and the reasons for sexual abuse of children ; the effectiveness and appropriateness of the strategies used once the problem has been identified ; and the response of society and the agencies to those who abuse."
That is a pretty fundamental list of issues and, until it is addressed, we shall continue to know next to nothing about who the abusers are and why they do it, or about the worth of the way in which we are currently responding.
Clearly, the Government have an important role to play in such research. They need to concentrate on more than the abusers and the abuse. They also need to focus on the abused children, the effects of that abuse on the children, how such children can be helped and how families can be steered away from abuse.
The Government can also help in other ways, first, by standardising the definitions of abuse, which are many and varied, and, secondly, by compulsorily requiring reports to be sent to the Department of Health on all matters concerning abuse. Only then will reliable statistics be available and, until then, we can only guess how much abuse is taking place.
We must do a great deal of research, but we must also abandon some familiar preconceptions. For example, we must give up the idea that child abuse is carried out by dirty old men in raincoats on street corners. The Cleveland inquiry report states on page 243 : "We have learned during the Inquiry that sexual abuse occurs in children of all ages, including the very young, to boys as well as girls, in all classes of society and frequently within the privacy of the family."
By way of example, we must give up the idea that child physical abuse is caused simply by poverty and/or unemployment. I quote from a survey by Vallender and Fogelman, published this year, about existing knowledge on the subject. It states :
"One misconception is that we are all potential batterers and that the main causes are depression and poverty. In fact, most parents who violently assault their children are young, immature, ill-educated, disorganised and aggressive ; many of the fathers involved have criminal records. Their incomes are similar to those of non-battering families, but they organise their finances badly."
Besides doing more research, we must abandon those preconceived notions and be clear in our minds about the
Column 65ultimate objective of our efforts. It is not simply the protection of children ; it is not even the conviction and punishment of offenders. It is the prevention of abuse and, in that context, it is easy to forget that protection and prevention are not necessarily the same thing.
What can we do to prevent child abuse? First, society must take early action rather than wait and then indulge in crisis intervention. Secondly, we must promote children's welfare within the family unit rather than simply stepping in and removing children from their parents. Thirdly, when the removal of a child has become inevitable, we must make certain that there has been adequate parental change before that child is returned to the family. How does the Children Bill fit in with this analysis? It will improve the framework and help professionals operate in a much clearer environment, but legislation alone is not enough. Society also has a part to play. We should ask ourselves three basic questions about our current values and standards. First, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) asked, should we be worried about recent trends in family life? Secondly, does the law's view of children as possessions and chattels, rather than as whole people, make abuse more likely? Thirdly, does the daily diet of sex and violence in the media, particularly on television, make child abuse seem more normal?
I have concentrated so far on child abuse in the family, where most abuse takes place, but I want to say a few words about child abuse outside the family, particularly about the abuse in the name of religion. I do so because many people are all too ready to laugh this off as unimportant, but it is not ; it happens. It is evil and those who are involved must be tracked down and dealt with. Those who systematically and deliberately abuse children for their own depraved ends must expect no sympathy from this House, the nation or from people anywhere.
Let me give two examples of what I have in mind. First, there is a cult known as the Children of God. Its members are followers of a defrocked Christian minister, David Berg, and they give everything in the Bible a sexual meaning. Thus,
"I will make you fishers of men"
becomes a call for teenage girls and young women to become prostitutes to recruit new members. In taped sermons in my possession, Berg preaches that there is a new commandment, "Thou shalt have sex", starting as a young child. We do not need to go further than a shopping mall in my constituency to meet members of that organisation.
My second example is satanism. All too often, its mention produces giggles and images of witches on broomsticks, but satanism is not the same thing as witchcraft. It is about the ritual mutilation and torture of people, particularly children, human and animal sacrifice and cannibalism. I shall quote from an article in Style magazine, published in January of this year, which states :
"Sam Hoyer's nightmare began at birth. Sam spent the first 16 years of her life in an orphanage in New England ... When Sam was 9 years old, cult leaders designated her and a handful of other children as candidates for the role of high priestess Testing the children's powers, the religious impostors strapped six of the candidates' to crosses and burned them. Sam alone survived As part of her grooming, Sam was required to watch other children being sacrificed ; then she was forced to witness and participate in cannibalism."
In case any of my colleagues are tempted to dismiss that report as the exaggerated ramblings of American
Column 66journalists, I must tell hon. Members that I have a list of 30 recent satanic murderers who have been brought before United States courts. If any of my colleagues are tempted to believe that those things do not happen here, I must tell them that only 10 days ago one of my local newspapers, the Egham and Staines News, carried a headline stating:
"Baby in satanic killing. Throat cut by coven members."
I hope that I have said enough to prove that cults do not consist of eccentric people who wear black robes and funny pointed hats. All too often they involve the deliberate abuse of children and young people. We cannot afford to laugh cults off. The time has now come to take them much more seriously than we have in the past. We must warn the public about them and the real dangers that they represent. We must act against the organisers of such depravity and cruelty. 6.40 pm
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. John Patten) : We have had an excellent debate initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth (Mr. Dickens) and all hon. Members have joined in congratulating him on presenting the motion and on the way in which he conducted himself while doing so. I was delighted that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall) spoke from the Labour Front Bench and that he was able to join in the congratulations offered to my hon. Friend.
My hon. Friend the Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth was right to refer to the need for deterrence and the importance of deterring, punishing and, sometimes inevitably, alas, simply keeping people off the streets and away from possible temptation. My hon. Friend, like others today, mentioned the importance of prevention. A policy of deterrence and punishment must go hand in hand with a policy of prevention. There is all-party agreement on that approach and much of that approach was marked in my hon. Friend's most interesting speech.
My hon. Friend the Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth did almost as good a job as the excellent civil servants who advise Home Office Ministers in giving us a list of the new penalties that have been introduced for child abuse in the past four years. His list was almost complete and makes it almost otiose for me to take the House through each of the new penalties to which my hon. Friend referred. He was right to say that the penalties are becoming more severe. Everyone in this country, while wishing to reform and repair the damage among those who have committed crime, wants to see child abusers almost more than anyone else--perhaps other than those who commit crimes against women--dealt with by the courts with the maximum possible severity.
I believe that my hon. Friend was also right to draw to our attention, and therefore perhaps to the attention of the media and through it to the attention of those who are tempted to commit crimes against children through sexual or physical assault or by neglect, or a combination of all three, the fact that should those people be caught and convicted after due process in the courts and sent to prison, their lives in prison will be difficult, although not because that is the sentence of the courts or because that is what the House wants. We want people to be sent to prison to be punished. Being sent to prison is the punishment and life in prison should be austere but nothing other than that. Nothing that happens in prison is
Column 67part of the punishment of being sent to prison. The punishment is the deprivation of liberty. That is what prison is all about. None the less, other prisoners are human beings with emotions. As my hon. Friend said in a chilling part of his speech aimed at those who may be tempted to commit child abuse, people who are sentenced for that will be segregated and cut off from much of prison life. Of course they will be protected by the hard-working prison officers who ensure that order is maintained in prisons. They will be protected from violent and verbal abuse as much as possible in the circumstances. However, prison life being as it is, other prisoners feel very strongly about such crimes. Having to be segregated, as child molesters and child offenders sometimes must be, will be an even more disagreeable experience than simply being in prison. Life in prison for those people will become even more of a punishment, and some would say rightly I dare say, than for most people who are imprisoned.
In his list of the punishments available to the courts and other reforms introduced by the Criminal Justice Act 1988, my hon. Friend the Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth came up with an idea that was totally new to me. He raised the concept of advertising. He suggested that we should take further steps to counter the menace of child abuse, and he proposed that televison advertisements aimed at potential child abusers should be shown with the broadcasters' late-night output.
We must not discount any measures which might be effective. However, I am not sure how far we can take my hon. Friend's idea at the moment. Television advertisements can certainly be very powerful in drawing attention to problems and consequences to change people's behaviour. Advertisements for drink and driving, drugs, AIDS and the Government's campaign on crime prevention are examples of that. As almost all hon. Members today have said, child abuse is an exceptionally complex phenomenon. I do not think that we should underestimate that. We would need to take advice from psychiatrists and others before we were certain that we could devise an advertising campaign which would help to overcome perversion.
Who would see the advertisements? It is perhaps too easy to assume that those who watch certain material late at night necessarily include a high proportion of child abusers. We simply do not know. We do not know enough about the profile of the child abuser. I believe that it is at least as likely that abusers will watch other programmes at other times. We have been resolute in trying to restrain unsuitable material being seen in the home. We hope to introduce new measures to the Broadcasting Standards Council about the standards of taste and decency. We also have a very sound system for classifying videos through the Video Recordings Act 1984 which is doing much to stamp out the most undesirable material. Through the Criminal Justice Act 1988, we recently extended the powers of trading standards officers to enforce the law in that respect. We are not letting things slide in the wrong direction.
I am sad that at least one other hon. Member who has taken a notable interest in this issue, the hon. Member for
Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mrs. Golding), did not speak. Perhaps she was observing the old convention that the
Column 68Whip should not speak, but should be mute in the Chamber. Happily for us, during the Committee stage of the Criminal Justice Bill last summer, the hon. Lady was not remotely mute. From time to time she would nip niftily to the back of the Committee from the Whip's seat and make an impassioned speech, quite often against the Opposition Front Bench. She would then nip back to Whip the troops. That was a tour de force, and I was hoping that we might see something like it this evening.
Mr. Patten : Well, a terrible chill went through the Chamber and the nerves tingled down the back of my neck when my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Sir J. Stradling Thomas) entered the Chamber to take up his one- time accustomed place on the Government Benches as a Whip. He is standing in. Perhaps some terrible horror has struck the Whips' Office. Perhaps they have all been laid low. However, when I entered this House in 1979, my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth disciplined me and other new Members with a ferocity unparalled in the Whips' Office.
Let me deal in turn with the speeches made by hon. Members. I hope also for an opportunity to debate an issue with the hon. Member for Newham, North- West (Mr. Banks), when he chooses to intervene. In a balanced speech, the hon. Member for Eccles (Miss Lestor) pointed out that often those who abuse were themselves abused when young. It is clear from research undertaken by the Home Office and by work that the prison service has done that many sexual abusers were subject to sexual or violent abuse when they were themselves children. Much good therapeutic work is under way in Her Majesty's prison Grendon Underwood, both to reform and cure, but also simply to understand the motivation of so many child abusers. We are a long way from being able to draw up a satisfactory profile of the average child abuser, if there is such a thing. Nevertheless, several hon. Members have made a good attempt at doing so this afternoon, and they all point in the right direction.
A second important point made by the hon. Member for Eccles concerned the worrying report--which was new to me--that perhaps child-lines are open to abuse through the British Telecom and Mercury networks. I was not aware of that, but my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Health was on the Front Bench when the hon. Lady made her remarks, and I know that he will give them the characteristic care and attention that he gave to matters of defence procurement for which he was responsible until the end of last week -- [Interruption.] Luckily, I did not hear what was said by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West, and I am sure that Hansard, with its characteristic good taste, did not hear it either. The third important point made by the hon. Member for Eccles concerned access to police records by voluntary organisations that have children in their care from time to time or that help children. She questioned the point of having good records of people who have been child abusers in the past, and who therefore may present a risk to children's future health and welfare, if responsible individuals cannot gain access to such information.
Arrangements are already in place for local authorities, the National Health Service and independent schools to have access to police records. After considerable
Column 69negotiations conducted by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, we have reached agreement on three pilot schemes allowing for access to such information by the voluntary sector. There is, first, one national pilot scheme to consider how the matter can be dealt with effectively nationally and, secondly, two local schemes--at least one of which will be in the west midlands.
Those negotiations have been protracted and difficult, not because of lack of good will by either the voluntary sector or the Home Office but because there are so many voluntary groups involved in the care of children, or who may be involved, at any one time. Working out how they can get the best route into police records but within the bounds of propriety has not been an easy task. Those pilot schemes are in detailed planning and we intend bringing them into effect in the summer of 1989.
Dame Jill Knight (Birmingham, Edgbaston) : In the light of efforts made some time ago in respect of access to police records, can my hon. Friend say whether, before a person is put in charge of a local authority children's home, the question of a police record will invariably be checked?
My hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst (Mr Sims) raised several important points. He, like my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire), is concerned about the extent of child abuse and wishes to know how far it has gone. The Department of Health, in consultation with the Home Office, is now considering establishing research into the characteristics and circumstances of child abusers. We hope to proceed with that as soon as possible. My hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst spoke of the NSPCC, with which he has long had a link. We value his work, as we do that of Dr. Alan Gilmour, the society's director, who, alas, will shortly retire. Dr. Gilmour is tireless in pursuing Ministers. He frequently pursued me when I was in the then Department of Health and Social Security, and the other day he winkled me out in the Home Office.
My hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst referred also to putting the child first. He moved on to the difficult territory of those occasions when the police, social workers and others decide between them not only that a criminal charge will not stick but, even if it would, it is not in the child's best interest to bring a prosecution. Such are fantastically difficult decisions for those in the caring agencies and in the police to take. Rather like those life and death decisions that physicians and surgeons in hospitals must sometimes take about when a course of treatment should be terminated, decisions taken privately by the police and social workers are excellent decisions, when they work. However, when they go wrong--as sometimes, alas, they do--they go horribly wrong, publicly and in the glare of publicity. It is not an easy course for anyone to take.
Mr. Tony Banks : I wish to raise the question of the social workers' role in the context of my own constituency. I understand that each year there is a loss of about 900 social workers throughout the United Kingdom. In the context of the problems associated with child abuse, having more professionally trained social workers available must clearly be one of the resource approaches to
Column 70dealing with a terrible problem. What proposals has the Minister for increasing the number of local authority social workers? My constituency, because it is an outer London borough, has difficulty in attracting sufficient numbers of social workers as it cannot offer inner London weighting.
Mr. Patten : That matter continually exercises the Department of Health, as it will my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Health, who was in his place on the Government Front Bench earlier. I shall ensure that the point made by the hon. Member for Newham, North-West is brought to my hon. Friend's attention.
In an interesting speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) drew attention to what happens when there is family breakdown, and how it alone may be not the cause of abuse--because no single factor is usually the cause--but how an unstable family structure can provide the setting for it. I agree entirely with my hon. Friend in his remarks about the importance of the family and the help that we must always give the family. My hon. Friend referred also to the problems sometimes facing working mothers. Forty three per cent. of the country's work force are women. We are told by demographers--although they are rather a rum lot, and I am not sure that they can predict the future any more than psephologists can predict the outcome of elections--that, by 1995, about 80 per cent. of all new entrants into the labour market will, to quote from something I recently read, have to be women if the jobs are to be filled. That must mean increasing help for families. It must come from employers first and foremost, and not from the state. I and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, together with others responsible for ensuring equal opportunities, do not wish to see a set-up of state-run creches. We are totally opposed to that. However, we would like to promote and to see in the next few years, in close consultation with employers--because there is no collision necessarily between caring and a career--good local provision by the private sector and voluntary organisations that will give the small- scale framework for child care, and provide--to paraphrase my hon. Friend's words--that surrogate family style and love and support during the hours when a mother is at work. That, I believe, is the right framework for the development of child care rather than larger scale provision.
The hon. Member for Southport (Mr. Fearn) raised an important point about paedophiles, drawing to our attention the existence of diaries providing addresses internationally and the possibility of their encouraging paedophiles. If any such diaries have been sent to him by those who have complained, I urge the hon. Gentleman to make them available to the police and the prosecuting authorities. I recently held a talk with justice Ministers in other European countries, and we are determined between us to do all that we can to stamp out this vile abuse.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House expresses its disgust and alarm at the spread of child abuse throughout the United Kingdom ; welcomes the provisions contained within the Criminal Justice Act 1988 designed to protect children and to deter potential child abusers ; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to ensure that the range of sentences available to the courts are regularly reviewed, are sufficient to enable the courts to deal effectively with those who commit offences against children, and strong enough to serve as a deterrent to those who may act towards a child in an unnatural way.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That this House at its rising on Thursday 22nd December do adjourn until Tuesday 10th January.-- [Mr. Wakeham.]
Sir Peter Emery (Honiton) : Before we divide on the motion--and I remind my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House that, with the late Sir Peter Mills, I once divided the House to urge its Members to stay longer at work
Sir Peter Emery : He is still very much with us, I am glad to say. He is a past Member of Parliament. I did not refer to him by his constituency because he no longer has a constituency, but he and I divided the House on this motion some time ago.
I want to discuss four matters relating to eggs. First, however, I wish to put to my right hon. Friend a point concerning procedure. Today we have a good deal of private Members' time. We have this debate, allowing hon. Members to raise particular matters, and afterwards we have the Consolidated Fund Bill debate. Traditionally, in the Consolidated Fund Bill debate Back Benchers may raise any constituency matter that they wish to be brought to the attention of Ministers. There are two, three or sometimes four such debates each year, giving Back Benchers a specific opportunity to raise such matters.
Because of the way in which the Government have arranged today's business, the Consolidated Fund Bill debate may not be reached until 10 pm. Four hours today, but on an ordinary day it would have been six hours, of time in which Back Benchers might normally expect to be able to make constituency points have been taken away. The Government may reply that there are precedents ; indeed, since 1982 I am afraid that it has been the exception rather than the rule for the Consolidated Fund Bill debate to start in prime time, at 3.30 or 4.30 pm, after Question Time or statements. The Government are depriving Back Benchers of rare and much-wanted time for debate. Many Back Benchers do not wish the debate to start at 10 pm.
It is true that we have allowed for a limitation on the debate so that instead of running to any hour it must finish at 9 am, but I think that the Government should consider beginning it at the start of business and letting it run its course. Back-Bench time is slim enough as it is, and it should not be eaten away, even for the convenience of the Front Bench. Perhaps the Front Bench is considering the majority of hon. Members : if the debate had begun at the start of today's business perhaps we would not have been able to adjourn for the Christmas recess until Friday, rather than Thursday. Regardless of what is convenient for the majority, however, the Leader of the House has a responsibility to the minority, who have the right to make constituency points at prime time and with full time for the Consolidated Fund Bill. I hope that my right hon. Friend and the two Front Benches will consider that in due course.
Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale) : I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. May I add that today we have had three and a half hours of private Members' motions, and an hour and a half has been taken up with ministerial statements?
As the House will know, I have been massively concerned with the egg problem ever since it began. I very much welcomed the statement today by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. He made his statement on behalf of the Government as both Minister of Agriculture and Minister of Food, and did so extremely well. Nevertheless, a number of questions could not be put to him. Because of limited time, I was not called. I hope, therefore, that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will consider my comments, or ask my right hon. Friend the Minister to do so.
First, will my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House do what he can to hasten the consideration of the Select Committee? The Government have decided that they do not wish to hold an inquiry, and I am pleased that they are placing the responsibility with a Select Committee, which I consider is an appropriate way of conducting an inquiry. Haste is needed, however. Whether we like it or not, there is still considerable concern.
My right hon. Friend the Minister said today that there was a very slight chance of contracting salmonella from eggs, and that the level of salmonella in breeding and laying flocks was very low. Against that we have the reports by The Guardian and the BBC, quoting statements by Professor Lacey which seem to represent only his personal view.
My hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie) the ex- Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health, has not withdrawn the statement that she made on television. Those who saw her on television know that her remarks were made off the cuff, and they certainly did not fit in with the statement by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture this afternoon that he and the Health Ministers agreed all statements on salmonella and eggs. There was certainly no agreement on the statement made by my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South. That she has not withdrawn that statement when she is palpably incorrect is a tragedy--a tragedy that has created a problem on which we are having to spend a vast amount of taxpayers' money.
One of my hon. Friends asked whether a precedent was being set. I do not believe that it is. I hope very much that what caused the tragedy was the statement by my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South, and we do not expect Ministers' statements to cause such problems in future. There is, of course, every reason for the Government to take the financial action that they are having to take.
Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch) : My hon. Friend is, I am sure, aware that Professor Lacey has a long record of attacking the battery hen industry and is simply using the current problem to promote his own ideas. Does my hon. Friend agree that the advertising, which, in my constituency, has annoyed egg producers as much as the problem itself, needs urgently to be rethought? If we are to encourage people to eat eggs it is essential to produce a short, sharp, simple message, not a full-page advertisement that is very verbose and boring. Does my hon. Friend agree that a simple phrase is needed that will both encourage people to eat eggs and play on the British public's sympathy for animal welfare? Would not the slogan "Save a hen--eat an egg" be much more useful than long advertisements?
Sir Peter Emery : I am not one for sloganising on the Floor of the House. However, I accept what my hon. Friend has said. The advertising campaign has not had the terse, direct impact that most advertising campaigns set out to achieve. I was a Minister during the coal crisis. We hit on a simple slogan. It was SOS, or "Switch Off Something". By jove, that made people save electricity.
May I ask my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House also to consider the problems that the secondary and tertiary industries involved in egg production are now facing. Their problems were not mentioned in the Government statement. A number of major companies in Devon and Dorset are supplying day-old chicks--in some cases 3 million a year. Nothing is to be done for them, but the whole of their business has been put at risk. Bankruptcy faces them, just as it faces the egg producer. Similarly, those who supply feed to egg producers have suffered considerable cuts in their business. It is wrong that they should be left out in the cold. I ask my right hon. Friend to refer this matter to the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.
Will my right hon. Friend also consider what is to happen after the four- week period? The statement applies to four weeks only. I hope that the problem will be solved in four weeks. Every hon. Member will be delighted if it is, but it is unlikely that it will be. The Government must consider, therefore, what they intend to do if the situation is still critical after that period.
What is even more important than all the matters that I have so far raised is the long-term future of egg production. The Minister said that salmonella in breeding and laying flocks is very low. However, some flocks have undoubtedly been affected by salmonella for some time. The Minister should therefore consider what should be done about the affected flocks. Would it not be much better to cull entirely the affected flocks rather than to reduce production by 10 per cent. overall, which would mean that flocks that are not infected with salmonella are also culled? It would be much better to attack directly the main problem. It may not be possible to do so at short notice, but I hope that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will approach the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and ask him to take positive action.
Only when the public are sure that both the long-term and the short-term problems have been solved will their confidence in eggs be restored. Only then will the cheapest and best form of consuming protein--the consumption of hens' eggs--be acceptable to the country at large. That is what everybody wants and we ought to be working towards that end. We shall achieve it only if we deal with the long-term as well as the short-term problems.
I hope that other hon. Members will support my views and that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will be able to reassure us. If he can do so, I shall not need to divide the House. 7.14 pm
Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe) : There is, of course, scant prospect of debating time for any of the issues that will be raised with the Leader of the House this evening, but there are two issues about which there should most certainly be oral ministerial statements before the House rises on Thursday.
I refer, first, to the Department of Social Security's proposal to scrap board and lodging payments for people
Column 74who live in hostels run by voluntary organisations. It is a proposal that would have a catastrophic effect on thousands of disabled people and, among others, women and children who have fled from violence and now live in hostels run by voluntary organisations such as MENCAP, MIND and Women's Aid.
The Government's proposal, which has angered Members of Parliament of all parties, including the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Irving) who has such a distinguished record of service in this field, is to substitute income support and housing benefit for the board and lodging payments now made to the residents of these hostels. If the proposal goes through, many residents will lose nearly £30 a week, and no one between 16 and 60 will have enough money to pay the current hostel charge of £70 a week. In consequence, 1,750 of the hostels will close at a stroke and most of the people who live in them will have nowhere to go. Many will have to join the growing ranks of the pavement poor whose living conditions on the streets of some of our major cities, as I know well as a trustee of Crisis at Christmas, are a total disgrace to this country.
In addition to the human devastation that the closures will cause, the Government's so-called "community care" programme for people with special needs, which is already in tatters, will be further exposed as a cruel sham.
The proposal is bitterly condemned by more than a score of Britain's most widely-respected and best-known voluntary organisations. It is self- defeating as well as inhumane, since ultimately many of its victims will find themselves in hospitals and other institutions at far higher cost to the taxpayer than that of the board and lodging payments they now receive.
I call most urgently on the Secretary of State for Social Security to relieve the anxieties of thousands of the most needful people in Britain today by withdrawing this odious proposal forthwith and I hope that, if the Leader of the House cannot offer us any assurance about it tonight, there will be a ministerial statement before the House rises for the recess.
The second issue on which I seek a ministerial statement before Thursday concerns the problems and needs of disabled people more generally. This Government came to power with a promise to "single out" disabled people for special help, but even people with the most severe disabilities now complain that instead they have been singled out for special hardship. More than half of all recipients of the severe disablement allowance, for which a claimant has to be over 80 per cent. disabled, have been forced on to means-tested benefits and are living on the breadline.
According to the Disability Alliance which represents over 100 voluntary organisations of and for disabled people, there were more than 1 million disabled losers from the social security cuts inflicted on 11 April. Yet £1.9 million went in tax cuts to the richest 1 per cent. of taxpayers in this year's Budget alone. The Government now have the results of two major new surveys of Britain's disabled population from the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys. The first, published in September, shows that there are now 6.2 million disabled adults in great Britain, which is double the figure given in the OPCS's previous survey on the prevalence of disability in 1971.
The second new survey, on the financial circumstances of Britain's disabled population, published in November,
Column 75shows that most of them live in preventable poverty. More than 4 million disabled people find it hard to make ends meet. Now that the Government know the number and needs of disabled people, there is no excuse for ministerial inaction and, as a first step, they must urgently reverse the cuts inflicted on 11 April.
The right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), then Minister responsible for disabled people and now Chief Secretary to the Treasury, said in March 1987 that the OPCS's findings, when they were published, would
" provide the evidence for a comprehensive review of benefits for long-term sick and disabled people."
Honouring that pledge will involve higher spending and the right hon. Gentleman is now in the best possible Cabinet seat to tell the Prime Minister that the Government cannot help double the number of people on which current policies are based without spending more money.
The OPCS's previous survey in 1971, commissioned by a Labour Government, led to the introduction of the attendance allowance, the mobility allowance, the invalid care allowance and the
non-contributory invalidity pension ; to the indexing of benefits to the higher of the annual increases in prices and earnings ; and to the earnings -related supplement to invalidity pensions. There were unprecedented increases in cash benefits and services for disabled people and that is our credential for demanding action now on the OPCS's reports.
Again, the Government have received from the Social Security Advisory Committee the important recent report entitled "Benefits for Disabled People : A Strategy for Change" which also deserves an urgent and positive ministerial response. Every opinion survey shows that the public want more help to be given. The resources are available. Only distorted priorities stand in the way of helping the poorest disabled people to live fuller and more fulfilling lives. Local authorities face an even more critical challenge than the Government arising from the OPCS's reports. As of now, they have identified only 1.25 million of the disabled people who are entitled to services under the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act which provides for home helps, home adaptations, telephones for the housebound and a wide range of other help. The vast majority of the 6.2 million people now shown by the OPCS to be disabled are entitled to help under the Act, but they will not get it unless the Government make more money available to councils. Council leaders of all political persuasions tell me and the Government that they now have to choose not only which of their discretionary powers to use under the Act, but even which of their legal duties to fulfil. They are also deeply concerned about the scandalous delay, more than two years after its enactment, in giving full effect to the Disabled Persons (Services, Consultation and Representation) Act 1986 which my hon. Friend the Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke), with help from among others the then Minister for Health, piloted to the statute book with such humane concern.
Council leaders complained, even before the OPCS's survey on prevalence was published in September, about being turned into lawbreakers in regard to the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act. Yet we know that they are discharging their legal duties to only one fifth of the